Have you ever found something unattended in a public place that didn’t belong to you? Like property left behind by someone in a rush? A friend recently told me this story of how she found some electronics accessories valued at around US$200 left in the restroom of a busy train station in a major city. What would you do? Before we get to that… let me tell you story from my childhood that’s stuck with me all these years.
One day when my brother was about 5 years old and I was 9, we headed out with my mom to do some shopping, parked the car after arriving at the mall and started walking toward Toys “R” Us. A few seconds into the walk across the parking lot, my brother spotted a wad of cash on the ground next to a parked car not far from the store’s entrance.
When you find something that isn’t yours
We looked around to see if anyone was searching for anything but the parking lot was empty. My brother innocently looked up at my mom and asked her what we should do. In this teachable moment that I remember so clearly, without hesitation my mom picked up the money — around $100 if I remember correctly — and walked us to the customer service desk in Toys “R” Us to turn in the cash. She didn’t think of keeping the money for a second.
My mom explained to the employee how my brother had found the cash, left our information with her and we were told that if no one claimed the cash in a week, they would call us to come pick it up. The cynics out there probably think we never saw the money again, but surprisingly enough, the store called my mom a week later, explained no one had claimed the cash and told us we could come in to claim it. My brother was so proud of his cash, and my mom then took us to the bank to put it in my brother’s new savings account. My mom is almost too moral, and for her, keeping the money we found on the ground before trying to find the owner was not an option.
Sometimes situations are very black and white, but as I’ve grown up I’ve noticed just how many shades of gray there are. Looking back, I’m shocked the clerk didn’t keep the cash for herself. It would have been so easy to call my mom a week later and lie, saying a man came in and explained how he dropped money by his car. Done. But nope, no one came to claim the cash and the employee didn’t keep the money for herself.
There are so many memories in my childhood that have long disappeared but that story above is one I think I’ll always remember. People are good and want to do the right thing. My mom with the strongest moral compass ever (she should have been a judge, really) made sure we knew what to do in situations like that.
So why am I telling you this? That story came back to me last week when a friend told me about how she found really nice Bose headphones in the stall of the women’s restroom at a busy train station.
When you find something of value that’s not yours, you have two choices:
1) To not get involved at all. You can ignore it and leave the items where you found them hoping the person comes back and that no one else steals the items in the meantime.
2) Take the items with you.
Option A. You can then try to wait around and find the owner. If you have no luck, you can then keep the items for yourself.
Option B. Turn them in to a lost and found.
CLICK HERE for more what would you do situations… would you get involved if you saw child abuse? A man getting rough with his girlfriend in public? An elderly person struggling to carry her groceries? >>
We’re all human and have made mistakes. We leave our things places by accident when we’re rushing and not paying attention. In situations like this, I always try to reverse the situation and put myself in someone else’s shoes. What would I want? How would I want to be treated? Usually that puts things in perspective. I know if I left something expensive in a bathroom I’d want someone to turn the things in to a lost and found.
You never know if the items left were things a teen had to save up for all summer or if they’re someone’s favorite possessions. Does that even matter?
Is doing the right thing always right?
If it’s a wallet with clear identification inside (or an iPhone with a tracker app), does that change how you’d react?
If you find a ring on a deserted beach where there’s no lost and found, is that different?
But back to the story. In a place where there is a customer service desk, what do you do? If you think the clerk is going to keep the untraceable items for himself/herself, is it better if you don’t even give the person the chance and keep the items for yourself since you found them? Finders keepers.
For me I look at it like this: What the clerk does is out of my control.
If that person keeps the items after I turn them in, then that’s on them if they feel keeping the property is the right thing to do. But at least if I turn the items in, I did my part and I can sleep at night knowing I did what felt right to me.